Three men from Londonderry who were stopped in a car under police surveillance which contained a viable anti-personnel weapon that had the “potential to kill or seriously injure” were yesterday sentenced to a total of 30 years.
Jason Lee Anna Ceulemans, 42, from Lecky Road, Damien Harkin, 48, from Westland Avenue, and Neil Christopher Hegarty, 49, from Sackville Street, each pleaded guilty to a charge of possessing the device to enable some other person to endanger life or cause serious injury to property.
All three were handed a 10-year sentence, five years of which will be spent in custody with the remaining half on supervised licence upon their release from prison.
Passing sentence, Belfast Recorder Judge David McFarland QC told the court that while he accepted their pleas on the grounds they were transporting the device, he said: “This was a particularly effective device designed to pierce armoured vehicles and kill or cause serious harm to the occupants.”
The trio also admitted a charge of possessing an item likely to be of use in an act of terrorism, namely the possession of a walkie talkie radio. For this offence, they were handed a concurrent four-year sentence and will also be the subject of a notification requirement for 10 years under the Counter Terrorism Act 2008.
Crown prosecutor Terence Mooney QC told Belfast Crown Court that the car with all three men on board was stopped in the Westway area of Creggan on December 3, 2012. The trio were all wearing dark clothing, with Hegarty and Harkin both wearing a pair of woollen gloves over latex gloves. Hegarty was also in possession of a walkie talkie radio, which he later claimed belonged to one of his children.
When police searched the Renault Megane, they discovered a rucksack in the rear footwell, which contained a “viable explosive fired projectile (EFP)”.
An Army technical officer was called to the scene and after examining the device it was established there was a commercial detonator inserted into a quantity of high explosives. The rucksack also contained an improvised firing pack.
Describing the device as a “complete EFP” which contained high explosives, a commercial detonator and a firing pack, Mr Mooney said it was “ready and able to be used”. The prosecutor told the court: “This device is an anti-personnel weapon, designed to pierce armour plating.
“Had it been successfully fired at a police vehicle, it had the potential to kill or seriously injure any occupants of the target vehicle.”
The prosecutor said that during interviews, Harkin remained silent but told police his intention was to remove and destroy a dangerous item.
Hegarty – who has a historical conviction of membership of a proscribed organisation which dates back to 1989 – denied being a member of a paramilitary organisation. Ceulemans, who had been driving the car which was under police surveillance when it was stopped, refused to answer questions and later adopted the same defence as his co-accused Harkin.